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In response to "Snap, Crackle and Plot" from The Escapist Forum: One of the best things about audiologs is that they allow you to pay as much or as little attention as you want. If I'm exploring an area that seems clear of enemies, I might keep walking around while it plays. If it seems unimportant or uninteresting, I can just keep going. If it's telling an interesting or important story, I can stop whatever else I'm doing and give it my full attention.
I would feel bad for people who ignored the audiologs in Bioshock. Diane McClintock's story (for example) had a cool arc that matched the locations you visited. Some of my favourite characters in that game have zero screen time.
I may have over-read that, but there is another "advantage" to audiologs: You save a lot of work.
I'm just thinking about the one Audiolog in Bioshock where (not really a spoiler imo) you listen to the audiolog a girl makes on New Years Eve, where, in the middle of a party, a huge explosion rocks the place.
Making that an actual in-game-cutscene would require to not only create an intact version of the hall the party is in, but also to animate lots of characters at the same time, later on panicking and running in all directions. And of course, there is a giant explosion.
With the audiolog, all that is left to the player's imagination.
In response to "Symphony of Play" from The Escapist Forum: No discussion of video game storytelling is complete without mention of of Half-Life 2. Half-Life 2 was the most significant advancement in video game story telling this decade. By never having you leave the perspective of Gordon Freeman, and having him remain silent throughout, you really felt like you were the protagonist. It created a level of immersion that no other game has been able to accomplish, in my opinion.
Take, for instance, the first section of the game when you're on the run. By having the helicopter shoot at you every time you stepped outside, the game slowly created a Pavlovian response. Eventually, when I came to a section where you had to go out into the open briefly, I felt legitimate fear. Think about what an accomplishment that is. It's easy to create a dystopic world where you can see how scary the oppressive regime is, but to actually make you afraid of it, to make you feel like you are being hunted down and not just a hero you identify with. The ability to replace the protagonist with the player is something unique to video games, and it practically creates a whole new paradigm to what art is and how it relates to its audience.
Think about it. For all of history the way artists got their audiences to experience and understand their art was through the vessel of a relatable protagonist. And when done well, this method can make you empathize with the protagonist and feel the emotions they feel. But the emotions are always one step removed, they always go through the middleman of the protagonist, and it's diluted in the process. Now, video games can remove that middleman. The fundamental purpose of the protagonist is completely gone, unnecessary. The paradigm has shifted: instead of trying to create a relatable protagonist to garner an emotional response from the viewer, the goal is now to create a level of immersion deep enough so that the viewer can experience the emotion directly.
This is the reason why video games as an art have such a huge potential. Eventually, when developers realize the power of this, the focus of gaming advancement will be on immersion, rather than photo-realism. The way you control and view the game will become more and more immersive, and one day they will probably be something like virtual reality.
I think cutscenes that remove control from the player have their place, but for immersion, they don't really help. Games like Half-Life, Bioshock, or Dead Space do well to maintain immersion by never shifting the perspective, and it seems a silent protagonist is a common theme. I don't think that's absolutely necessary, though, as I found Prey to be quite immersive, even if it had some flaws. It was telling a simple alien-abduction story, and the player character's responses always seemed legitimate for what was happening around him.
Yes. The silent protagonist is a pet peeve of mine; I can't think of a single game where it actually added anything useful, and several where it was just ridiculous (and yes, that includes HL2 -- why the heck would Gordon Freeman, a known character with known [well-educated] background, mysteriously remain mute for the entire game? Even when being directly asked questions? Maybe the mic in his HEV suit is broken, but that doesn't explain why he's silent before he gets it).
A few games are a little more on the fence (eg. Dragon Age), by putting words into the mouth of the protagonist although leaving out the actual voice acting. This is a little better (at least they're not inexplicably mute), but it just seems lazy.
Prey is a good example of a game that took the other approach, having a fully-voiced character and thus a "real" story. (There are others, of course.) I much prefer this, when I can get it; it's even better when it does support some variability in the protagonist (eg. Mass Effect).
I fear that I must disagree, Gordon Freeman killed the bad guys, but in all other narrative respects, he(and by extension the player) are non-entities, the NPCs are still the ones telling the story.(not that it detracted from my enjoyment of the game at the time.)